Planet of Sound: Weighing Up The Musical Highlights of 2017

The previous 12 months can be placed in a ‘good but not great’ category that hopefully didn’t set a precedent for 2018 – that is a personal observation, of course – even though I have nothing really significant to whinge about as I somehow managed to keep the machine on the road while dodging a few obstacles along the way.  One musical highlight was another first rate instalment of David Bowie box sets, this time focusing on the Berlin years of the late 1970s when even the stark bleakness of the East/West divide could not bring down a major songwriting talent.  Also happening was  BMA  magazine marking a major achievement as 2017 drew to a close with its 500th issue in December, and I did a great job to celebrate that by misspelling Jus Oborn’s name in a review of the superb Electric Wizard album  Wizard Bloody Wizard  that was nothing short of disgraceful for one of the standout albums of the year.

But I did get to enjoy a description of Metallica’s thrash metal classic  Master of Puppets  as the work of an ‘acutely sensitive songwriter’ that could be apt for the acutely sensitive songwriting on atmospheric instrumental ‘Orion’. Also worthy of note in the magazine was mention that local free music advocate and performer, Shoeb Ahmad, has a new album due out this year, and to help celebrate the big 500 we also got a few pages reproduced from the very first  BMA  issue all the way back in 1992 with a humble mailing address somewhere in quaint Weston Creek.  Of particular note were a few photos from that wild February 1992 Nirvana gig at the ANU and a preview of a story for the next issue titled ‘And Canberra – a café society?’ It is true that for many years before Braddon became the hippest place in the universe Gus’s was the only outdoor café in Canberra, but I guess for many local residents over those many decades one outdoor eatery was better than none.  It should also be mentioned that in the pre-hip Braddon days Canberra did have the City Pub at a time when Lonsdale Street resembled a bomb site.

Anyway, that was then and so was 2017, so I figure we can draw a line in the sand. But given I’ve recently been listening to The Smiths a lot, in particular the first rate reissue of the band’s jewel in the crown, the 1986 album  The Queen is Dead, and have also been consuming copious amounts of vodka and orange that mostly brings on unwanted bouts of self pity, I don’t seem to have crawled out of the hole just yet. Some of it is trivial like who the hell am I going to take to the Slowdive show in Sydney at the end of the month now that a spare ticket has come about?

But other disconcerting news like the financial trouble currently experienced by the Phoenix Pub is cause for broader social concern. The Canberra Times has run a number of stories in recent weeks that detail strength sapping landlord issues, which seem to be bleeding the Phoenix dry – and that sucks.   will never forget travelling into the city one sultry Sunday afternoon in 2009 (I think that was when it happened) to check out US psych freaks Thee Oh Sees at the Phoenix.  That was one wild show in a small, packed venue described by former  BMA  editor Peter Krbavac as having, “condensation dripping from the walls,” which created just the right amount of punk rock atmosphere in a city location that was otherwise so quiet you could hear a pin drop. One can only hope that sanity prevails and the Phoenix can keep going until Thee Oh Sees finally crack the code with their 50th  album going to number one in the charts and the band returns to the Phoenix in a limousine to rock out with King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard as support act.

But now let’s revisit the personal for a moment and it must be said that solace from the experience of a ‘so-so’ year did arrive in the form of a collection of Creedence Clearwater Revival singles in their original mono mixes. I have had the lovely 1970 single, ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain?’ on repeat while considering that sometimes innermost thoughts can rise to the surface in the simplest ways. Another jolt to the system that has made me want to leap from the couch to re-engage with the world is the Velvet Underground’s ‘I Heard Her Call My Name,’ (mono mix of course) played repeatedly at ear destroying volume. It is from the band’s  White Light/White Heat  album that has always managed to be both hilarious and mindblowingly intense at the same – Lou Reed’s wildly free guitar solo on this song pretty much kickstarted the music career of Sonic Youth.  It does sound a bit like a power-drill entering the skull but the sheer aural audacity of it, the sheer fuck you to anyone who recoils at guitars dripping with attitude and annoyance and the utterly brazen self-confidence to even attempt such a thing in 1967 simply demands the utmost respect.  Listen to that stuff and the future suddenly seems all the brighter.

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